This series of articles will break down each region of the tournament, calling out potential double-digit upsets and schools that will likely advance out of the region to give you the best odds of winning your bracket pool.
Cinderella Picks – Loyola Chicago and Georgia State
These are admittedly some of my least confident double-digit picks out of all the regions, but if you’ve never heard of these schools, perhaps you should before they bust your bracket.
Loyola Chicago is one of the hottest teams in the country, finishing down the stretch winning 11 out of 12 games. Out of all of the mid-majors you have likely never heard of in the field this year, Loyola has one of the most impressive wins on its resumé with a six-point victory at Florida. Loyola is also a well-balanced team, with four players averaging double-digit points-per-game, so even if a more talented Miami squad locks down defensively, Loyola can still find a way to win. This might be the most probable of (6) versus (11) upsets.
Georgia State (15)
The last time the Panthers were in the field, (14) GSU upset (3) Baylor in dramatic fashion in 2015. This squad is arguably less talented than the one that upset Baylor but nevertheless can keep things interesting against a Cincinnati team that I believe is vastly overrated and the product of a weak conference. Cincy’s best win this season is against Wichita State and given the weak matchup between Texas and Nevada, I could see Georgia State advancing to the Sweet 16. If that were to happen, GSU would be playing in its home city of Atlanta and would surely have the crowd behind it. Stranger things have happened….
Team(s) to Advance Out of Region – Virginia, Kentucky
The ACC is (and arguably has been) the toughest conference in college basketball in the past five years, making what UVA has done this season remarkable. Winning the regular season title and ACC tournament, not allowing a single team this SEASON to score over 70 points, and having 3 guards (Hall, Jerome, Guy) shooting over 85% from FT is a recipe for success in the tournament. This team will never blow someone out but knows how to win close games and can lock a team down for seven-eight minute stretches at a time. UVA has been highly ranked in previous recent years, and Tony Bennett’s squads have yet to finally get over the hump and make it to a Final Four, but if there was a year to do it, this year is the one. Virginia is probably the safest (1) seed to pick given its consistency all year.
Think Virginia will choke as it has in previous NCAA Tournaments? If so, the other school to keep an eye on in this region is one of the hottest teams in the country. This team will be the more talented squad in every matchup it faces in the region, Led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky is averaging almost 77 points-per-game and seems to be peaking at the right time, winning the SEC Tournament in impressive fashion and looking like a team more experienced than its mostly freshman-led roster appears. The SEC is not just a football conference and Kentucky is led by one of the most experienced coaches in the country in Coach Calipari. If Kentucky can get past Arizona, Big Blue Nation would face a compelling matchup against UVA that Kentucky could squeak by on size and raw talent alone.
Pick to Win Region: Kentucky